Toilets, a bathtub, drywall, old electronics, paint cans — you name it, and it has likely shown up at a recycling site in the Center Grove area.
The problem: those items aren’t recyclable. And when they are dumped at the site, they cause headaches for volunteers and the county’s recycling district, which has to clean up the site and send the dumped items to where they are supposed to go — often the landfill.
Volunteers check the site a few times a week and routinely find items dumped there. Signs clearly state what can be recycled, including plastic bottles, cans and cardboard, and often they find the offending items stacked right against those signs, said Kirk Mangold, who volunteers with his wife Patty as a caretaker for the recycling site at Emmanuel Church of Greenwood.
They’ve found sopping wet rugs, rotten bales of straw, storm doors, lumber and picnic tables.
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“I don’t think there is anything we haven’t found,” he said.
The problem isn’t new to the Johnson County Recycling District, which manages six recycling sites across the county. But the issue has continually gotten worse in recent years, said Jessie Biggerman, executive director.
About two years ago, the recycling site at the Bargersville Senior Center stopped taking anything other than paper and cardboard because of the exact same issue, she said.
Now, the big problem site is at Emmanuel Church of Greenwood, located off Stones Crossing Road, near State Road 135. That site is the busiest in the county, collecting 2.5 to 3 tons of recyclable items per day, since it serves a population of about 40,000 in the unincorporated area that doesn’t have recycling service provided by their local government.
When people dump items that can’t be recycled, someone has to clean up and either take the items to the landfill or have a trash service come get them, she said.
That can cost money, if the recycling district doesn’t have the right equipment needed to pick up large items, and requires workers to clean up the site and haul items away when they can. That often means that the Johnson County Solid Waste office, which runs the recycling district, has to close so employees can deal with the issue, Biggerman said.
And, if it continues, the office could eventually decide to close the site or be asked to close the site by the church, she said.
“People think their actions aren’t going to have an impact on others, but they will,” Biggerman said.
Mangold and Biggerman both said that the majority of people who use the recycling site are passionate about recycling and use it properly, only leaving items that can be recycled, breaking down boxes and keeping the area clean.
But others leave items they think are recyclable because they have metal or plastic in them, but don’t meet the guidelines clearly laid out on signs at the recycling site. And others are likely businesses, mainly in construction, looking to get rid of unused materials, such as drywall or lumber, which also cannot be recycled at the automated facilities the recycling district uses, Biggerman said.
“We end up with a lot of those loads getting sent to the landfill,” she said.
Officials don’t want to close the recycling site, since that would be a huge hit to the area and would lead to more recyclable materials going to the landfill, she said.
The goal is to instead educate people about what they can recycle there, and what to do with other items. They will sometimes track people down if the items they have left have an address or company information, not to get them in trouble, but to talk with them about why they can’t leave those items at a recycling site, Biggerman said.
“There is an illegal dumping ordinance. That’s not what we’re trying to do, but we want people to use it properly so it can be kept for everyone,” Biggerman said.
So when Kirk and Patty Mangold asked if there was a way they could volunteer to help the solid waste and recycling district, being a caretaker for two recycling sites was the job Biggerman gave them.
The retired couple from New Whiteland goes to the sites a few times a week, looking to see if they need cleaned or large items need hauled away. When items fit into their vehicle, they haul them off — including brand new sinks or toilets they have taken to the Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Whiteland, Kirk Mangold said.
In the nearly two years they have been volunteering, dumping has always been an issue, he said.
They enjoy the work, seeing the site clean when they leave and meeting fellow recyclers, but they didn’t expect it to be a year-round job when they first signed up, he said.
“We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into,” he said.
But they want to be sure the site can stay open, and continue serving the surrounding community that has few, if any, other options for recycling, he said. Other residents they have spoken to at the site are worried that the dumping will eventually lead to the site being shut down, he said.
“Our goal is to make sure people hosting the sites have nothing to complain about,” he said.
Here are the locations where Johnson County residents can drop off recyclables:
Johnson County Recycling District office, 900 Arvin Road, Suite A, Franklin
Bargersville Senior Center, paper and cardboard only, 14 W. Old South St., Bargersville
Emmanuel Church of Greenwood, 1640 W. Stones Crossing Road, Greenwood
Edinburgh transfer station, River Road, Edinburgh
Mount Pleasant Christian Fellowship, 2424 S. Emerson Ave., Greenwood
Prince’s Lakes town hall, 14 E. Lakeview Drive, Nineveh
Here is a look at what you can recycle at the drop-off sites in the county:
Steel and tin food cans
Aluminum beverage cans
Paper and cardboard
Glass (green, brown and clear)
Plastics 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 7, which includes milk jugs, soda bottles, laundry detergent bottles. They do not accept No. 6 plastics, including styrofoam
Cartons, such as for milk and juice
Paper and cardboard